Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to Sir Adrian Boult (BBC)

Letter No.: 
Oct 24 [1939]

From R. Vaughan Williams,
The White Gates,
Westcott Road,

Dear Adrian

I wrote to the D.G.1
Here is his substitutes deputies2 answer.
You will see he has not even troubled to find out what my grievance was, which was, as you know, not that there was not a certain amount of ‘serious’ music but that the quality of the ‘serious’ music was so half hearted.3


1.  Director General (of the B.B.C.). For the letter see VWL1609.
2.  i.e. substitute’s deputy’s! The reply came from the Controller (Public Relations).
3.  VW had clearly sent Boult a copy of his original letter to the Director General, as he mentions in VWL5000, and was now reporting the result. Boult wrote privately to VW on 26th October:
Thank you for your second letter.  I return your B.B.C. reply.  I did not write sooner because I have been moving about and I wanted to think over your letter a little more carefully. I think you will realize that in a post mortem of this period I do not intend to be unvocal, and I think you will guess how I feel about the whole matter.  I have perhaps been too easy-going in the past and only occasionally put forward the plea that I am the only broadcasting Director of Music in any broadcasting organization who is not absolute master of his own programme policy.  Between these four walls I can tell you that I am saying it pretty forcibly at the moment, but I do not think resignation would be any use or threats of that kind because I have reason to believe, though I have not been officially told, that a certain amount of the instructions that come to us in regard to these emergency programmes both at the present time and when they were planned some time before the crisis, had emanated from Whitehall, and I do not think Whitehall, or that part of it that is capable of giving instructions that the public is to be amused at all costs even when they have just been told that a battleship has been sunk, cares whether A.C.B or X.Y.Z. is Director of Music of the B.B.C.
I do not want to make any excuses, but it is a fact that between September 2nd and 11th nine symphonies were performed by the following composers, Haydn, Beethoven, Dvorak, Mendelssohn, Mozart, Schubert, i.e. one a day.  Did you realize this?  I admit that many of them were at impossible times to listen, but, rightly or wrongly, we have assumed (no doubt here again under instructions) that most of Britain had gone on a shift system and would be listening at all times of the day.  Did you see that delightful letter from Manchester in last week’s Radio Times about the eight o’clock Concerts?  It made me want to do one every day.
In regard to the enclosure, which I return, I have taken steps to see that the Director-General personally sees your letter.  He has been travelling a good deal, and it may have been passed on in his absence.

Location of original letter:

Shelfmark of original letter: 
File 910, VW composer
General notes: 

Year date taken from context.
Boult's letter can be found transcribed in Composers' Letters, edited by Jan Fielden, Marginalia Press, 1994, p.148.

Cobbe 328
Original database number: